Chinese billionaire hits back at ASIO: I’m not a communist agent

Chinese billionaire Chau Chak Wing.
Chinese billionaire Chau Chak Wing.

The Australian-Chinese businessman allegedly named in a secret ASIO brief on foreign political ­donations is planning to lodge a formal submission with the spy agency’s director-general, vigorously rejecting claims that he has ever acted as an agent for the ­Chinese Communist Party.

Chau Chak Wing, an Australian citizen of 20 years who had been named in an ABC Four Corners ­report as being under suspicion by ASIO for alleged links to China’s communist organisations, has ­revealed that Australian governments had sought to use his connections to exert soft-power influence in China.

He has also warned that the publicised leaking to the ABC of an apparent high-level brief to the government on Chinese influence, in which he is alleged to have been named, could deter foreign investors looking to invest in Australia for fear of similar treatment.

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In an exclusive interview yesterday, Dr Chau said that claims he was an agent of Chinese soft power were irrational, claiming successive governments since the Howard era had sought his help in promoting Australian interests in China, including being asked to lobby for Australia to win a $150 billion LNG deal with China in 2001. “In relation to Australian companies, if Australian businesses needed my assistance for development in China, I have been quietly helping them … this has been recognised by the Australian government,” Dr Chau said.

“I have promoted trade, Australia tourism, business and education without seeking personal gain or any favour in return.

“In fact it has been more a case of exercising Australian soft power in China.”

The billionaire property developer and philanthropist, who has donated more than $20 million to both Sydney University and University of Technology Sydney following requests by chancellors for financial assistance to construct new buildings, said the public allegations against him were easily proven to be false.

“I am not seeking to challenge the authority of ASIO or the broad powers it understandably has as our national security agency,” Dr Chau said. “But I am exploring ­options to defend my reputation and correct the record by laying the facts on the table.

“I have never been approached by, or spoken with anyone at ASIO. Nobody has confirmed to me whether or not I was named in a confidential ASIO brief to senior political officers. Yet an ABC media report not only asserted this was the case, it contained several false and defamatory imputations that I have acted against Australia’s interests.

“Nothing could be further from the truth and it is deeply distressing that wild and unsubstantiated claims could be made publicly in the absence of facts.

“For the record, I have never been a member of the Chinese Communist Party and I have never been a member of an ­advisory group called the People’s Political Consultative Conference.

“As to the entity referred to by the ABC as the ‘united front work department’, I have no idea what this is.”

The Australian revealed last year that ASIO warned Labor and Liberal officials in 2015 about taking donations from foreign Chinese entities and companies alleged to have links back to the Communist Party.

Dr Chau, who migrated to Australia from Hong Kong in the early 90s and married an Australian citizen, was named in the Four Corners report this month, alongside Chinese national Huang Xiangmo, as two Chinese property developers under suspicion from ASIO in the context of Chinese donations and political influence.

Dr Chau, an Australian citizen, said he did not know Mr Huang and had never had any dealings with him.

Government sources confirmed that intelligence agencies had only recently again raised concerns about Chinese soft power and influence in Australia. However, what the concerns involving Dr Chau were have not been revealed.

Dr Chau, who former prime minister John Howard and then foreign minister Alexander Downer praised for his contribution to Australia, suggested there ­appeared to be racist overtones to some of the attacks against him.

NATIONAL AFFAIRS EDITOR
Award-winning journalist Simon Benson is The Australian’s National Affairs Editor. He was previously the Daily Telegraph’s NSW political editor, and also president of the NSW Parliamentary Press Gallery